Week 2: Things Go Wrong

Much like in life, plans will derail and common expectations will not be met when traveling. Really, most things are slightly more difficult – even in a country where the native tongue is (halfway) your own. Here’s the big story to explain what exactly I mean:

When I arrived, I found the provided apartment was pretty lavish for the Philippines. After a few days, however, the odd smell I first noticed wasn’t what one finds normal in a climate like that of Florida. The musty, damp, not-lived-in smell had been caused by mildew all along, and my roommate and I had been unwittingly feeding it with our woefully-leaky kitchen sink. Naturally, we tried to solve the problem by reporting it to the leasing office, but were given the building owner’s number instead. We missed calling during working hours on a Thursday simply because of all the things to take in and remember here, and then Friday because of a mis-communication over who would make the call on our shared local phone. So, we wait through the weekend. We do, and – after 2 1/2 days lost because of a problem with a local ally and two work trips with Human Nature – we get the owner on the phone. The owner is willing to get a plumber there same-day, but we can’t manage to get back in time with our work hours to let the guy in. The next day, the owner calls back and we schedule the plumber to visit the following morning. Friday morning of the second week comes along and the plumber arrives – 15 minutes late. Because the first thing at work is to meet the co-founder of the company, my roommate and I will have to leave before the man’s finished, which means now we have to somehow get our door locked once he leaves. We speak to the security guard, asking him to take our second key, but he refers us to the office staff. The office staff won’t be in until 30 minutes before we must be in the office, which is ten minutes away. So, we wait. The office staff arrive on time and we ask them to lock the door after the plumber, but we’re told there is a company policy that forbids them from unlocking doors or handling keys once they’ve been given to residents. At last, we exasperatedly decide to take everything precious with us in our backpacks and leave the apartment unlocked until we return from work. Was it a good idea? Perhaps not, but it seemed the only way to at once honor our work obligations and get the sink fixed. In the end, nothing ill came of it. Our sink was fixed and the apartment (with an estimated 14 man hours of scrubbing with vinegar) was much-improved.

It’s worth mentioning that the University does a great deal to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the students they send each year; mandatory pre-departure meetings, a required online preparation course covering a range from health insurance to culture shock, local contacts, electronically-available procedure documents to help you get from the airport to your arranged transport to your provided housing are all put in order so as little goes wrong as possible. No matter how hard they try, though, stories like the one I’ve just shared are going to happen – and that’s just fine. If you don’t want adventure and the difficulties that come with it, stay home.

On the work front, the first real week was remarkably light, as my supervisor, mentor/co-worker, and really the whole office were engrossed with the semi-monthly completion of the company’s “magalogue,” a print source from which customer’s select their purchases. I did, however, re-write 2 articles on the website that were almost 10 years out of date, proofread several more, and create blurbs for old press releases that would reflect the current state of affairs at the company. The hardest part of all this actually came before any of the writing began, and that was internalizing the voice and brand of the company. For this I had a meeting with my supervisor, some reference materials, and several hours of research. Even so, the main critique of the work I’ve so far produced is that it didn’t quite match the tone the company maintains. Ah well. Things go wrong – especially at new jobs. Here comes another week to work and learn.

And now, the lightning round:

Filipino movie theaters have low, hard seats, relatively-cheap, flat-rate tickets, and staff that turn on the lights before the final note of the film’s score has ended; the viewers leave just about as quickly. Pork adobo is good, but not really as heavenly as everyone made it out to be. (I tried 2, to be sure.) Rainy season isn’t necessarily rainy all the time; there’s a drizzle here and there, but in 2 weeks there’s only been a single thunderstorm – albeit, a very intense one. There are many adults here with braces. Skin whitening is a fairly common and controversial beauty practice among women here. According to locals, dogs don’t say “bark bark,” they say “oh oh.” Coca Cola cans are 15 ml lighter than in the US, and their shape is long and skinny; they’re also branded, “to be sold in the Philippines.” According to my roommate after he made a trip to Metro Manila, there are more trans people in the town than you’d find in a big American city.

This post was going to include photos, but, believe it or not, there’s an issue with uploading here.

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